MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - An ice fisherman from northern Wisconsin who was stranded on Lake Superior clinging to a piece of ice the size of an ambulance said on Friday he feels lucky to be alive.
Skip Wick, 80, and Mike Popko, 61, were fishing 500 feet from shore when eight to twelve-foot waves rolled in and cracked the 12-inch thick ice last Saturday at Saxon Harbor, about 24 miles east of Ashland, Wis.
“It was something you had no warning for - it was a dead sea and then all of a sudden, the ice is breaking up,” said Wick, a retired industrial arts teacher and an experienced ice fisherman.
“When that big master wave was coming, it sounded like the roar of a jet. I’ve been on floes before and had to take a boat to safety, but this was like something I had never seen. If you fell into the water, you were done.”
Ice fishermen cut a small opening through a frozen body of water and use lines and hooks or spears to catch fish. Some even have small huts on the ice for shelter while they fish.
When he saw the ice start to break up, Wick yelled to his son and grandson, who were able to launch a 12-foot boat to safety. However, Wick and Popko became stranded as they jumped from one broken ice chunk to another.
Wick said he ended up on an chunk of ice the size of an ambulance wedged between two other large chunks, which helped cushion the impact of the oncoming waves.
Four firefighters from Ashland arrived within 50 minutes and launched a 20-foot Ice Angel air boat, which bounced over the ice chunks to reach the stranded men, battling poor visibility and the lake swells. “They certainly stuck their necks out,” said Ashland Fire Capt. Chris Bukovsky, of the rescuers.
Bukovsky said the anglers were stranded about 90 minutes. “It was a nice day for ice fishing, but it’s weird how fast foul weather can spring up on Lake Superior,” Bukovsky said.
The Ice Angel rescue boat was targeted by the administration of George W. Bush as an example of pork barrel spending, Bukovsky said. The $80,000 craft was approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2002, and hailed at the time by former U.S. Rep. David Obey as a triumph for public safety.
Writing by John Rondy, Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Greg McCune